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Medieval European tapestry
Photo by Michael Visser

Embroidered Tales

Handwoven tapestry tells quite a story

Sometimes there’s more to a tapestry than meets the eye. Case in point: this medieval woolen wall hanging, which was donated to the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at St. Michael’s College in the mid-1990s.

On display at the John M. Kelly Library, the handwoven European tapestry is as pleasing to the eye as a 1950s Christmas card. But the scene it depicts – the fateful first meeting between the patriarch Abraham and Abimelech, king of Gerar (left) – is fraught with tension. Though he may not show it, Abraham is actually fearful the king will kill him to get to his beautiful wife, Sarah (in those days what the king wanted, the king usually received). And so, Abraham introduces her as his sister, thinking this might spare his life. It does, but the king promptly summons Sarah to his bedchamber. Luckily for Abraham and Sarah, God appears to Abimelech in a dream and tells him the truth. The king is not too pleased to have been lied to, but Abraham has one more card up his sleeve – he reveals that he wasn’t really lying as Sarah is both his half-sister and his wife (incest laws have changed over the centuries). The king, thankful that he didn’t commit the unforgivable sin of adultery, forgives Abraham and the rest of the visit goes off without a hitch.

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